The ascent of Noah Roberts  

After facing early adversity, the redshirt freshman is a future star for the Trojans.

Redshirt freshman outside hitter Noah Roberts had a career-high nineteen kills for the Trojans in an upset win over No. 6 BYU last season (Henry Kofman / Daily Trojan)

Freshman outside hitter Noah Roberts was flying high heading into his first season on the USC men’s volleyball team. Named to the Boys Fab 50 list after earning All California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section First Team his senior year of high school, Roberts seemed to be a surefire pick to be a college volleyball star. 

But then, he hurt his back. The injury forced him to sit out for a couple of months, which then turned into the entire year. Before he knew it, Roberts had missed his entire first season and was forced to medically redshirt.

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His hopes of starting as a freshman for the cardinal and gold were crushed as he was forced to sit on the sidelines during the 2022-23 season while going through the aggravatingly slow injury rehabilitation process. 

“It was incredibly challenging,” Roberts said in an interview with the Daily Trojan. “I didn’t really know what to do because it was just hard having to watch practice every single day, not really making an impact.”

Roberts had to deal with all the disappointments and longings of a player unable to be on the floor with his teammates. Instead of letting his feelings isolate him from his team, Roberts tried his best to stay engaged in the day-to-day team activities, even if he couldn’t participate physically. 

“I would just go into the gym every day, have a smile on my face [and] talk to the guys. If somebody makes an error, [I would] lighten the mood,” Roberts said. “If the team was pretty quiet, I’d fire them up, just anything I could do to get people going.” 

Because of that attitude, Roberts was able to have an impact on his Trojan teammates last season, even if fans didn’t see it on the court. 

“He tried to keep a positive attitude through it all, and it showed true resilience,” said fellow redshirt freshman outside hitter Riley Haine. “He battled through and contributed to our team in ways that he could. Hats off to him for handling that so well.” 

Haine and Roberts endured the difficulties of redshirting together, and were able to lean on each other for support. The two also were paired up as roommates, allowing Haine to be the primary beneficiary of Roberts’s encouraging presence. 

“He’s a great guy all around,” Haine said. “He’s really more of a mellow dude off the court … super caring, super kind, love being around him.” 

Roberts’s positive attitude was a big reason why Head Coach Jeff Nygaard and the rest of the Trojan staff recruited Roberts so heavily out of high school. 

“[Roberts] prides himself on helping his teammates be a better version of themselves,” Nygaard said in an interview with the Daily Trojan. “Recruiting him, he would always say, ‘It’s not about me. It’s about, does our team succeed?’”

A big part of why USC recruited Roberts was, of course, to play volleyball. Nygaard and the staff’s first impressions of Roberts’s on-court abilities in high school were glowing. 

“[Roberts] is a 6-foot-6 outside hitter who had such a smooth approach, explosive jump and floated to the ball. He was just putting balls away,” Nygaard said. 

His smooth style of play and long, flowing hair earned him the superstar-worthy nickname “Flo-Rob,” which people started calling him as early as his freshman year of high school and still call him to this day. 

“I don’t really get called Noah anymore,” Roberts said. 

Flo-Rob was already a highlight reel player when he was given the nickname in high school, but he was also no one-highlight wonder. His coaches saw that smooth approach, explosive jump and decisive hitting finish over and over again in Roberts’ — admittedly very long — highlight mixtape.

“When you’ve got 15 minutes of highlight and highlight and highlight and highlight, that’s substantive,” Nygaard said.

So, the work began on getting Roberts back to the kind of player who could score every single point for the Trojans with style. It started the moment he stepped on campus, of course, even though he couldn’t play.

“He’s been a student of the game,” Nygaard said. “When you have to watch, you absorb.” 

The frustrations of being on the sidelines also taught Roberts many valuable emotional lessons. 

“You cease taking it for granted when you don’t have the ability to do it anymore,” Nygaard said. 

There was still a lot of work to be done physically heading into the 2023-24 season. Everything Roberts learned mentally, he had to put into practice physically. Specifically, Roberts put a lot of work into aiming his hits. 

“I came in as a freshman blindly hitting balls not really knowing where [they were] going to go, just hoping [they] would hit the ground on the other side,” Roberts said. “Now Nygaard, and [associate head coach] Rory [Prager] especially, have helped me craft my swing in a way where I can put the ball exactly where I want to.” 

So, if you’re keeping score at home, Roberts now has elite control within his skill arsenal in addition to his explosiveness, powerful swing and smooth fundamentals.

It started to show up on the practice court, leaving even his teammates — who are elite volleyball players in their own right — in total awe. 

“I’ve seen that guy go off in practice like no tomorrow,” Haine said. 

However, his elite practice play didn’t immediately translate to the in-game opportunities. The Trojans are incredibly deep at the outside hitter position, which Roberts played in high school, so Nygaard asked him to switch to opposite hitter to try to get him more on-court time. 

Roberts obliged, but he still spent much of the season behind redshirt junior opposite hitter Jack Deuchar. Deuchar had the starting spot effectively locked down, leaving Roberts to learn behind him as he regained full strength. Roberts showed flashes of his potential in moments he was brought in off the bench, but never got extended playing time to show his true capabilities. 

That was until the second set of the Trojans’ April 6 match against BYU. 

The Trojans were underdogs against the No. 6-ranked Cougars, and they were struggling. Already down one set to none, they looked to be headed to a 2-0 deficit. Looking for a spark, Nygaard inserted Roberts. 

Roberts proceeded to kill every ball that was set to him in the second frame for six kills on six attempts, leading the Trojans to a dramatic comeback to even the match at 1-1. 

That’s how the entire rest of the match seemed to go. Freshman setter Caleb Blanchette continued to feed the hot hand. Everyone in the arena knew that nearly every ball was going to Roberts. 

And it didn’t matter, because he killed nearly every single one. He ended the match with a career-high nineteen kills at an almost inconceivable .593 hitting clip, and was the clear X-factor in the Trojans’ dramatic 3-2 victory over the Cougars — their best win of the season to that point. 

It was the kind of performance that feels amazing after the freshman year that Roberts had the season prior. 

“It felt good to finally showcase my ability, because I know that I’ve had that in me since I got here,” Roberts said. “I just haven’t had the right opportunity to show it, and to be able to prove that to everyone that came out, and my team, and myself, honestly, it was incredible. I’m probably never going to forget it.” 

It was an incredible moment and an unforgettable game. But, Roberts has bigger goals than just one good game. 

“As a team, I wanna win the [National] Championship,” Roberts said. “Personally, [I want to win] First Team All-American, player of the year. It’d be incredibly challenging to get as an opposite, because it always goes to an outside it seems. But I’m up for the challenge.” 


Whatever happens, he has a head coach who believes in his potential.

“I can honestly say I have no idea what that ceiling looks like,” Nygaard said. “I could say what I think it could be, and I desperately hope he shatters it in a way that embarrasses me.” 

With three years of college eligibility left and all that potential, it’s not a matter of if Roberts will be a star for the Trojans — it’s a matter of when. 

Because with his whole team and that long flowing hair behind him, Flo-Rob was always built for the spotlight. 

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